May 5 was Red Dress Day in Canada, the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Over 100 people gathered in Cold Lake on Wednesday, to honour all Indigenous mothers, daughters, aunties, sisters, grandmothers, nieces and cousins who were tragically stolen.
Organizer Gabrielle Whiskeyjack is from Elizabeth Metis Settlement and Saddle Lake First Nations.
“So many people, communities, organizations and businesses helped me so much,” Whiskeyjack told Lakeland Connect. “Being a grassroots organizer for this movement made me feel more connected to my community. Everybody that I asked to help me did not hesitate, everybody was super supportive and really wanting to help make a difference.”
The event highlighted missing Lakeland women and girls with their photos displayed on the shoulder of the road at Joe Hefner Park and on both sides of Highway 28. Each photo had a family member standing near the photo as a symbolic red dress danced in the gentle breeze hanging in a tree nearby.
“Cold Lake First Nations, Saddle Lake Cree nation and the Metis nation of Alberta all helped to pay for all of the photos,” Whiskeyjack said.
“The Friendship Centre in Cold Lake was the main hub for the event and they helped me in so many ways and they paid for the posters.”
Whiskeyjack says she is very thankful for the Friendship Centre in Cold Lake and to everyone who supported the event.
“I am so thankful and grateful for everybody that showed up to show support. And to all of the families and people who stood there to honor and raise awareness for these women and girls,” Whiskeyjack said. “I cried a couple times today because I was so proud to see how it turned out. I felt a lot of emotion putting this together especially when printing the pictures and getting the names printed. The night before the event I went to sleep and I did not feel alone. I felt them there with me. I’ll never forget their faces, names and stories and I will continue to honor and raise awareness for them.”
It’s never really easy to ask someone who is holding a sign how they feel about losing the loved one pictured. The stories people at the event told Lakeland Connect were heartbreaking.
Melissa Faithful is from Frog Lake First Nations. Faithful held a sign at the event with her best friends picture attached. She is demanding justice for Bella.
“She was murdered in the City of Toronto, around four years ago. The reason why I have ‘Justice for Bella’ on here is because there still hasn’t been any justice for her and the person responsible did not come forward,” Faithful said. “I brought a sign for her today, to bring awareness. She was a sister. She was my best friend, she was a family member to many people, she was loved.”
The sign also had four more names written on it of family and friends who were murdered.
“People turn a blind eye and I understand that it’s important to stand up and raise awareness because you know this could happen to anybody,” Faithful said. You know, it doesn’t have to be dismissed by people and this can happen to anyone, right next door to you. And when you start to realize that it’s in your backyard, it’s in your own community that this is happening, you know you can’t turn a blind eye to it forever. And it’s so important for us to gather together like this to show, and put a face that there is an issue, as part of this community of people who recognize the issues that are happening.”
Faithful says that other issues that are not talked about when it comes to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is that there’s also men and boys.
“There’s a large number of men and boys that are also missing and murdered, you know, so that’s something else that we need to bring awareness to,” Faithful explained. “It’s really sad because these effects of losing people will last forever. I’ll never forget these people and that pain never goes away.”
Christine Whiskeyjack stood silently nearby holding a sign of a man playing a guitar. The man in the picture is her son Waylon Jackson. Jackson was murdered in Kelowna British Columbia on March 11, 2016.
“He was sent down to deescalate a fight, a dispute between his sister in-law and her boyfriend,” Whiskeyjack told Lakeland Connect. “As he was walking away from the dispute a man stabbed him from behind piercing his heart.”
The man was charged with second-degree murder Whiskeyjack says. He was granted a suspended sentence with no jail time.
The community really pulled together to make this event safe. The Cold Lake RCMP were on hand to show their support and helped people cross the street while things were being set up.
Councillor Kelsey Jacko from Cold Lake First Nations also attended the event and says it’s important to raise awareness.
“It affects us all, you know, I’m here because I just wanted to bring awareness to everybody about this issue, and bring justice for the woman and men that are missing,” Councillor Jacko said. “There’s a lot of people still wanting answers, and they still want justice for their families.”
Councillor Jacko said there’s a lot of stories regarding his members, wherever they are.
“People never got charged for some of the murders and we demand justice, this has been affecting our people for over 150 years now,” Councillor Jacko concluded.
Arthur C. Green is from Whitbourne Newfoundland and graduated from the CNA Journalism Program. Arthur also studied Business Marketing and Political Science at Memorial University in Essex England and St. John's Newfoundland. Green has worked for such organizations as CBC, CBC Radio, NTV, Saltwire, Great West Media, CKLB Radio, Vista Radio, and Postmedia. He also loves Jiggs Dinner!